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US cable describes controversial Saddam execution

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 6, 2010
A newly-leaked US diplomatic cable describes in detail the circumstances of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's execution, from guards telling him to "go to hell" to officials taking mobile phone pictures.

Saddam's execution in December 2006 sparked international controversy after mobile phone video of the sentence being carried out was published on the Internet showing witnesses taunting him as he was about to be hanged.

The controversies led then-US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to comment in the leaked cable that supporters of Saddam would use the poorly-conducted execution as an excuse to condemn what he said was a fair trial.

The cable, dispatched in January 2007 and classified SECRET, was one of several hundred US diplomatic reports that have so far been published by whistleblower website WikiLeaks out of a tranche of 250,000 that it says it has obtained.

According to the cable, Iraqi deputy prosecutor Monqith al-Faroun, in a meeting with Khalilzad, described a guard who was escorting Saddam to the execution platform telling the ousted president to "go to hell", remarks that Faroun said he admonished.

Faroun said that subsequently, he saw Iraqi officials present at the execution openly taking photographs with their mobile phone cameras, despite the fact that the devices were prohibited.

The lawyer added that as Saddam was conducting his final prayer before being hanged, one witness shouted, "Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada", in reference to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who rose to prominence after Saddam's fall from power.

The mobile phone footage, which spread across the Internet and was being sold on Baghdad streets in the days following the execution, showed an angry but composed Saddam standing on a steel platform in a dark hall, his hands bound and a rough hemp rope around his neck.

Several members of the party carrying out the hanging can be heard chanting, "Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada!" before Saddam is seen falling to his death as the metal trapdoor opens below his feet.

Commenting on the incident, the cable's author, whose identity is unclear, wrote, "The GOI's (government of Iraq) lack of a clear and coordinated plan to control the witnesses and conduct the execution resulted in a hastily run and confusing event."

The cable noted that the Iraqi witness list for the execution changed "several times prior to the execution and at one point included 20-30 personnel."

Khalilzad told Faroun, the cable said, that "Saddam's supporters would use the execution as an excuse to condemn what had been a fair and just trial."

Asked by Khalilzad what Iraq would change for subsequent executions, it said, "Faroun responded emphatically that the only witnesses who will be permitted are those required by law: a public prosecutor, a judge, a religious leader and the prison director.

"This, he concluded, will prevent unacceptable behavior and unnecessary controversy," the cable said.

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